By now you have heard about Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s new book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. Love or hate the book, it is wonderful we have a national dialogue about working women! Rather than focusing on leaning in for the duration of my 700 or so words here, I’d like to stress the importance of leaning on. That is, the critical importance of finding non-judgmental support as a working mom, particularly from other moms.
My handle for this Working Mother Magazine blog is “Between Trusted Moms” because finding moms that can dispel great advice, be a shoulder to cry on, and won’t hold the endless venting you just need to get out of you, against you, are a key component to maintaining your sanity. This kind of support can come in a lot of forms. For me, I was lucky to find an absolutely amazing, structured mom support group (at the recommendation of a mom friend) just a couple of months after my daughter was born (if you are in the Washington, DC-area, check out PACE @ http://www.pacemoms.org/). The group was led by social workers and met weekly during my maternity leave when I was freaking out about every little thing (when will I get to sleep again? Why is my daughter doing this or that?). The group also helped a lot with my transition back to work, which is when I needed peer support the most.
Meeting with my PACE moms was like finding an oasis in the desert each week. The birth of my first child was a remarkably joyous time, of course, but let’s face it: learning to be a mom and then entering back into the working world as a changed person is really rough. I’m not afraid to call it a desert. It was lonely, during maternity leave after my husband was back to work and mom had gone back home from helping us and then when I returned to work myself and faced a multitude of conflicting feelings and a seemingly endless challenge juggling the schedule, logistics and everything else thrown at me. My PACE mom friends helped me feel “normal” and to focus on the wonderful aspects of my newfound motherhood. We continue to meet informally now and I so appreciate those awesome moms.
I also found support from two other sources: my own mother and friends of all types who were also moms. I have never appreciated my own mother in the way I did and do now after becoming one myself. I distinctly recall telling my mom, about two week’s post-partum, “I apologize for everything I ever did in my entire childhood where I was mean to you or difficult; you are the most amazing person that ever walked the face of this earth.” It’s too bad some of us cannot truly appreciate our moms until we are walking in their shoes. But I’m sure glad I woke up to how much my mom sacrificed, how hard she worked (along with my dad, who gets a LOT of credit here too; I didn’t forget you dad, but this is a blog about working motherhood!) and the extent to which she always went the “extra mile” for us (see: everything from little notes in our lunch boxes to elaborate holidays to getting me to that New Kids on the Block concert I just had to go to). My mom is also a working mother success; she raised three daughters while leading a nonprofit organization, volunteering in the community, being a supportive spouse and juggling many other hats.
My friends who are moms – current and former co-workers, close friends, acquaintances that became close because of our now shared motherhood experience – have been so helpful. I do not take every piece of advice, but hearing a diversity of perspectives and again, the process of normalizing the experience for me (and heck, sometimes even realizing you have it easier compared to someone else!) has built me up in ways I cannot articulate.
Every working mom needs support. Asking for and receiving help and/or communicating your raw feelings to someone you trust is not a sign of weakness. There is nothing to prove. Those of us who are mothers ALREADY know that you have the hardest job in the world as mom; couple that with a day job of any sort and you are a superwoman. I believe the best way you can assess whether you are doing well as a mom is whether your child is thriving. Are they generally happy and healthy? Yes? Congratulations! How you get there is different for every single mother and family.
Plan out who can provide support while you are pregnant so that the system (or at least an idea of who to go to) is in place when your child(ren) come. Keep finding new sources of support as your motherhood evolves. And (literally) get rid of anyone that is judgmental. They aren’t worth the very precious and little time we have as working mothers. Whatever you do, lean on other trusted moms. You’ll be glad you did.